As many of you know, I am sharing bits and pieces from my first year of teaching as I reflect on the past year and hopefully learn from it. Sometimes, my first year was exactly like what I hoped: a classroom filled with learning, laughter, and even mutual respect. Sometimes, it was like I expected: highs and lows, discipline and boundaries.
Other times, I was blown off my feet and hanging on for dear life.
That is how I felt when our school experienced a tragedy that hit us out of nowhere. I’ll never forget receiving an email late at night from our superintendent letting us know that six students had been in a car accident. Two of those six boys were brothers from our school. Three out of six teenagers died; the other three were injured physically, emotionally, and mentally all because of another’s man’s senseless road rage.
The shock rippled through our school. When we held an assembly the next day to let the students know, I just remember one of my students clinging on to me, sobbing, and asking, “If he can die just like that, what is stopping me from dying too?”
Many, and I mean, MANY students grieved from the personal loss of the their close friend, a good student, a kind boy, and so many also grieved the loss of their own stability. Suddenly, the world underneath them tilted and the ground that they had thought for so long was safe and steady turned out to be filled with holes and cracks.
They were face-to-face with their own mortality.
No doubt, this was one of my darkest moments in my teaching career, but praise God, there was light. Teaching at a Christian school means that I am not only encouraged to share my faith, but it is expected. I was able to be honest with my students. I told them the truth (because lies never help), we are not guaranteed tomorrow. We are not even guaranteed our next minute, but we are guaranteed an eternity in Christ. I fully believe that those boys are in Heaven, not playing golf or Xbox or whatever odd things people sometimes say, but walking in the presence of our true God with new bodies that will never again know pain.
The young men who died in the car crash were all believers in Christ and their deaths brought hundreds of people into a Church that they would never have otherwise stepped a foot into. Over and over again, the friends and families of these boys went up on stage and spoke about how their sons, brothers, best friends would be grateful to know that at least their deaths brought about a conversation for someone to know a little more about Christ and their eternity.
I will never forget this experience and what it taught me about being a teacher. I am not just here to educate my students. I am not just here to help them get into a good college.
I am here for when their world falls apart.
I am a physical shoulder covered in tears and snot.
I am a presence that must remind them that the world is better and brighter than our current circumstances may feel even when it is hard to believe it myself.
I am there to be honest about the ugly truths of the world while also encouraging them with the glorious Truth that is Christ.
To be a teacher means to join my students at their lowest moments and to raise them to their highest potential.